One Festival – Programme B at the Space: A heady mix of gender, race, depression, redemption and lots of laughs
One Festival is a collection of 19 individual theatre pieces divided into four separate programmes on consecutive nights. Programme B presents four darkly comedic one-woman monologues and is a heady mix of gender, race, depression, redemption and lots of laughs.
Opening tonight’s bill is Perfect, a disquieting retelling of Rumpelstiltskin and an exploration of the real emotions behind a classic fairytale. The concept is great: an absent librarian expected to host a children’s storytelling club is accidentally replaced by a drunk woman with a fixation on the truth – and a tendency not to sugarcoat her words. The story itself has less impact, feeling muddled and anticlimactic and, although this fits well with our drunken protagonist, it fails to enchant the audience. Due to the construct of the show, performer Carianne Dunford spends a lot of time answering questions and fielding interruptions from the invisible crowd of children. Unfortunately, the timings and reactions are way off and the artifice becomes painfully apparent, stripping away any naturalism and making it increasingly difficult to suspend disbelief. Although the weakest performance of the night, maybe with time Perfect will begin to flow more comfortably.
Motherland is a poignant, eye-opening and frequently hilarious monologue about race, relatives and rugby. Naomi Joseph is of mixed English and Indian parentage, summed up with brilliant one-liners like “Don’t get me wrong, I like my poppadoms but I buy them from Sainsbury’s”. This heritage is examined throughout the piece, mainly as a conflict between who she is, and who people assume she is due to her “burnt sugar” skin tone. There are the samosa-sellers on the way to Twickenham stadium, targeting her as a member of one big Indian family, of which they are all members. Or the Indian bag-searcher, insistent on knowing where she is “from”. This disparity between perceived culture and actual history is exacerbated by the death of Naomi’s white mother – a passionate, casually racist indicator of her daughter’s true heritage. The tragedy of her passing is twofold; Naomi has not only lost a mum, but also the ability to walk down the street with her white parent, drawing curious eyes and shining like a beacon of progress. Despite the conflict and heartbreak examined in Motherland, it manages to stay consistently funny and life-affirming throughout, bringing the audience to tears and laughter in equal measure.
In It’s Not a Sprint, Maddy (Grace Chapman) has just turned 30 and has two pressing questions on her mind: How is she going to finish the marathon she is running, and what will she say when her boyfriend proposes at the finish line? Brilliantly framed as a conversation between her pragmatic, jolly but problem-ignoring outer self and her pessimistic, critical inner psyche, this is a fascinating exploration of age, relationships and depression – with more laughs per minute than many stand-up sets. Our protagonist is someone many people will identify with: a commitment-phobe living a pick’n’mix lifestyle, unable to see anything though to it’s conclusion, an employment history made up of a mish-mash of temp jobs. She can’t even manage to stay faithful to her adoring, slightly boring, boyfriend. This lack of long-term ability, along with her toxic inner voice, makes her situation all the more poignant. The marathon – the first long-distance project she has even undertaken – is the perfect metaphor for her situation. As well as the constant jogging (whilst tied to a single, bobbing birthday balloon) filling the show with a manic energy, there is palpable pain and exhaustion, and a real excitement as to whether she can or will ever make it to that finish line.
Finally, Sweet Fade is one woman’s experience of being a female barber in a male-dominated industry. Armed with nothing but a chair, a pair of scissors and buckets of East-London charm, Abby (Charlotte Powell) is privy to a million private moments, the stop-off for any big occasion. People come in for wedding haircuts, interview haircuts, funeral haircuts. Bankers, butchers, solicitors and students all pass through her shop – even, in one incredibly powerful scene, a fireman fresh from the Grenfell disaster. The big conflict here, though, is between traditional gender roles. Many male customers don’t trust her and her father and boyfriend still refer to “her indoors”, despite the fact her income supports them both. She used to enjoy ballet but the passion wanes after being mocked by her boyfriend. Powell plays this conflict to perfection, cracking the jovial, confident exterior just enough for us to glimpse the uncertainty beneath. We eventually realise that despite the freedom she boasts of, despite her refusal to conform to society’s expectations, she’s not as free as she first thought – and that needs to change.
One Festival – Programme B is at the Space from 9th until 27th January 2018. For further information or to book visit the website here.
For further information about One Festival and the other Programmes visit the Space’s website here.